The history of AMA and AAN policy recommendations regarding boxing did not end in the 1980s, as suggested in Dr. Lewis P. Rowland's Viewpoint.
As a member of the AMA Council on Scientific Affairs seven years ago, I helped develop a report titled “Boxing Injuries” that was adopted by the AMA House of Delegates at its 1999 annual meeting.
Going beyond the existing call for a ban on boxing, the AMA policy considered the protection of boxers and prevention of brain injury: “Until such time as boxing is banned in this country, the following preventive strategies should be pursued to reduce brain and eye injuries in boxers: (a) Ideally, head blows should be prohibited. Otherwise, our AMA should encourage universal use of protective garb such as headgear, and thumbless, impact-absorbing gloves; (b) the World Boxing Council, World Boxing Association, and other regulatory bodies should develop and enforce objective brain injury risk assessment tools to exclude individual boxers from sparring or fighting….”
The AMA report also identified the role of physicians who attend to amateur and professional boxers: “Our AMA promotes the concept that the professional responsibility of the physician who serves in a medical capacity at a boxing contest is to protect the health and safety of the contestants. The desire of spectators, promoters of the event, or even injured athletes that they not be removed from the contest should not be controlling. The physician's judgment should be governed only by medical considerations.”
The AMA policy statements on boxing are available online through the AMA policy finder at www.ama-assn.org; search for policy statement, HR-470.963, Boxing Injuries.
Boxing brain injuries are 100 percent preventable, but the sad truth is that not only is boxing the only sport in which the goal is to injure the opponent's brain, it is also the only sport in which an athlete who suffers a head blow is allowed to return immediately to action, rather than being sidelined.
There may indeed be forces so powerful that the AAN and AMA calls for a ban on boxing may never become reality, but for the benefit of boxers whose brains are at risk, we can and should continue to raise public awareness and voice opposition.
Dr. Rowland deserves our thanks.
Michael A. Williams, MD
Chair, AAN Delegation to the AMA Chair, AAN Ethics, Law and Humanities Committee, Baltimore, MD